Sophie Monks Kaufman


Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon – first-look review

Ana Lily Amirpour returns with a blissed-out, techno-powered riff on the time-honoured superhero movie.

No one can criticise the vibes of Ana Lily Amirpour’s New Orleans-set horror comedy, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. The vibes are immaculate. Scuzzed-up neon colours, Techno deep cuts and a carousel of chancers married to a propulsive editing technique make this the coolest extended music video concept to play at the 2021 Venice Film Festival. Beware, though, to those searching for something deeper, for scratch at the surface and the whole edifice comes away under your fingernails.

This is not at the door of Jeon Jong-seo – last seen in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning – who grounds the whole circus as Mona Lisa Lee, an escaped psychiatric patient with mind-control powers. The film opens with her breaking out of the institution where she has been incarcerated for 12 years, after compelling two guards to hurt themselves via hypnosis. In a film world populated by animated Halloween costumes, she stands out by remaining impassive.

When urges rise up out of her deadpan presence they are deeply endearing. At first, all she wants are cheese puffs and, unwise to the ways of the world, she tries to stroll out of a convenience store without paying for them. Coming to her rescue is amiable, psychedelic t-shirt wearing drug dealer “Fuzz” (so called because of his soft hair) who coughs up for the puffs as a result of an instant attraction to Mona. She is still wearing a strait-jacket, which he thinks looks cool.

Fuzz is played by Ed Skrein, the evil racist cop in If Beale Street Could Talk. His chill, helpful good nature shows versatility. He is content to be used by Mona. She listens to his romantic overtures while giving no sign that it has gone in, but flees as soon as cop Officer Harold (Craig Robinson) shows up. He is the cat to her mouse throughout the film and the chase is ostensibly the spine of the story, although digressions abound.

What to say about the role of stripper Bonnie Belle as played by Kate Hudson? She takes Mona in and soon realises that mind-control can be utilised to get people to hand over their cash. Styled like the thousands of slumming-it-Hollywood-actresses that came before her in cut offs, heels and tight tees, she speaks in an inexplicable, chewy New Jersey accent, swaggering all over the shop like a drunken sailor.

Bonnie has a child, the precocious and long-suffering Charlie (Evan Whitten). After a rocky start, he and Mona become pals, presumably because children and the mentally unusual share a certain innocence? Who knows. Not Amirpour, who seems to have conjured these characters after reading a graphic novel and eating too much cheese before bed.

Character motive is not a factor in this universe where, ambience rules and consistently delivers. Genuine affection is conjured by style choices. The sight of the downbeat Mona wearing a ‘RAVE TO THE GRAVE’ tee and star-shaped purple sunglasses is charming, as are the music cues that soundtracks her every move. In a sense this is Amirpour’s most honest film. Unlike her previous ones, which struck a faux somber tone, this wears its neon, fun-loving heart on its sleeve.

Published 6 Sep 2021

Tags: Ana Lily Amirpour Craig Robinson Ed Skrein Kate Hudson Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon Venice Film Festival

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